Archive for the ‘Places to Stay’ Category

PNVY: Mackinac Island

July 19, 2013

PNVY stands for Places Not Visited YET.  Like most of you, I have a list of places I’d like to see.  My friend, Marcia Brixey is a big proponent of “dream boards”.  She believes that what you see you make happen.  Rather than photos on poster board, I am writing a blog and posting links on a Pinterest board for my PNVY.

Mackinac Island scene

Mackinac Island is one of those places.  A small island (3.8 square miles), part of Michigan and located in Lake Huron, there virtually NO motor vehicles on the island and 80% of the land is a State Park.  Intrigued?  I am!

Imagine getting off the ferry and traveling to your hotel in a horse drawn carriage.  If you saw the classic Christopher Reeves film, “Somewhere in Time”, it was filmed here at the Grand Hotel.  Sit on the 660 foot porch (said to be the longest in the world) and just unwind.

Round_Island_Lighthouse_Michigan

That doesn’t mean there is nothing to do here – quite the contrary.  You can take a several hour cruise to a lighthouse or any number of other cruises offered.  There is a renown butterfly house, a historical fort plus plenty of shops, galleries and restaurants.

For 10 days in June, there is a lilac festival and how could you NOT want to visit a place that each August hosts a Fudge Festival!?!  Even if you don’t happen to visit during the annual Fudge Festival, there are 6 – count ’em – 6 fudge shops on this tiny island all making delectable, irresistible fudge.

There’s also a lot of entertainment on the island from comedy to music.  Several music festivals take place at different times of the year and there is music in the park in the summer.

Can’t get away in the summer?  Mackinac Island has something to offer any time of year and HGTV named it a Top Ten Christmas Town.

No doubt you’ve probably just added Mackinac Island to your travel wish list.  Look around when you are there, you may just see me, your Travel Queen!

 

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Fore and More

May 31, 2013

Scotland is known as the birthplace of golf with roots dating back to the 15th century and nearly 600 courses dotting the landscape.  So needless to say, if you are a golfer or have a golfer you like to travel with, Scotland is a dream destination.

Now I don’t play golf and my husband can take or leave it so this is aimed at the non-golfers who visit Scotland.

Bagpiper at Turnberry

Let’s focus on Turnberry.  One of the top rated courses in Scotland and a Starwood Luxury Collection property with lots to offer beyond golf.  Sure, there’s a great spa, a bagpipe player to enjoy with sunset cocktails and an outdoor activity center for archery, fishing or off-road driving.  But my favorite feature at Turnberry is the falconry!  Educational and exhilarating, various raptors you can work with, hold on your gloved hand and yes, even have them fly and land on your arm.  An amazing experience!

 

Falconry, Turnberry Scotland

Falconry, Turnberry Scotland

Abbey ruins, Scotland

Abbey ruins, Scotland

Then there are old buildings such as Abbeys and Castles.  Lots of Castles.  Some ruins, some intact.  A worthwhile day would be a visit to Culzean Castle less than 4 miles from the Turnberry resort.  There is lots to see from the building to the walled garden, the swan pond, even caves!  You can go on a ranger walk, have lunch and even do a little shopping.

Culzean Castle, Scotland

Culzean Castle, Scotland

Scotland has some colorful tartans and fabulous cashmere.

Begg Cashmere, Scotland

Begg Cashmere, Scotland

We saw a display of great scarves in the boxed displays in the lobby of Turnberry.  Alas they were not sold in the hotel boutique, but with the help of the concierge, we found the nearby Begg Cashmere factory store and left with some incredible bargains!  Yes, you now know what everyone on my shopping list got for Christmas.

Isle of Arran

Isle of Arran

If you have a car at your disposal and want to venture further afield, you can take a ferry to the Isle of Arran off the coast.  There you can, of course play some golf,  visit the local creamery where cheese is made and exported all over the world as well as local distilleries.

The roads are narrow and a bit harrowing, especially for those of us not accustomed to driving on the left so be sure you have a designated driver if sampling the wares from the distillery!

Friends in Scotland Pub

Friends in Scotland Pub

Speaking of drinks, no visit to Scotland would be complete with visiting the local pubs.  A great source for local fare such as Haggis, Bannocks and tatties, they are also a warm and cozy place to enjoy a pint with friends – or make new ones!

The Last Shangri la

November 2, 2012

The picture in the ads you’ll see in the back of travel magazines for Bhutan is always of the” Tiger’s Nest” Monastery.  Tucked in the Himalayas, this developing nation only gets about 50,000 visitors a year and it was the October destination for the Travel Queen.

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Bhutan's Tiger's Nest

The first thing to strike us was the natural beauty.  Staggeringly high mountains thick with untouched forests dotted with terraced rice fields.  Glacier cold, clear rivers and streams crossed by simple bridges decorated with hundreds of prayer flags.

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Bhutan

Access to Bhutan is only through organized, all-inclusive tours.  Group sizes range from 1 to about 20.  

This is not a country where you could successfully explore on your own.  There is only 1 airline, Drukair, the national airline which has only 4 planes in their fleet.  There are no rental car counters – your tour will include a vehicle and driver.  Good thing because there are NO stoplights in the country and street signs or highway markers are rare.  The roads are also narrow, winding and not in the best of conditions.

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Hotel accommodations are clean and simple – think National Park lodging in the US but with poorer quality workmanship.  Plumbing is Western so there are regular flush toilets and showers in all.  Just don’t be surprised if the plumbing leaks or the electrical is hinky.  The beds are ROCK HARD, so much so that we took the comforter, folded it and put it under the sheet in an effort to add some cushion. 

The government mandated that by the end of 2012 all hotels must have Wi-Fi.  Usually it’s only in the lobby and even then, service is hit or miss.  I had a peek inside the wiring closet of one of the hotels and suffice it to say, it wasn’t close to any US standard. 

Most meals will be at your hotel and buffet style.  Typically 5 items with rice being 1 of them.  The food is at best “uninspired”.  I brought my own peanut butter and was the envy of our group.

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But Bhutan is not about luxury hotels (there are only a couple), great spas or fabulous cuisine.  Its about the natural beauty which it has in abundance.  Next week I’ll cover the hikes and help you select the amount of activity that’s right for you.

Push the Reset Button

July 20, 2012

I don’t think I’ve ever checked into a hotel planning to spend 7 nights and then checked out after 1.  Certainly I’ve asked for a different or better room,  some properties I wouldn’t choose to stay at again and several I wouldn’t recommend but I had never been so disappointed as to actually MOVE until now.

We honeymoon every year for our anniversary.  This year we went to Kauai.   With both friends and family in the hospitality business, we get great discounts on what are typically great hotels.  However,  the Sheraton Kauai was a disappointment.  From the lack of landscaping,  the tiny pool, the restaurants, even the elevator and hallway to our room – everything felt like a budget hotel.  Not what we would have chosen for our “honeymoon ” even our 12th!

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However,  this is not a hotel review but rather a “Now what?”  If it were just our room, we would have asked for a different one but the room itself was the best part (okay, except for the tub) – our disappointment was with the property.

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I had done some restaurant research prior to our arrival and a couple of the nicer restaurants were 2 miles down the beach at the Grand Hyatt.  We made a reservation and went there early enough to walk the grounds.  From the waterfall, black swans and other interesting waterfowl out front to the beautiful grounds and extensive pools – including a quiet adult pool – we were envious!

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At dinner I used my smartphone and got room rates.  A deluxe ocean view room was $600/night.  Yikes!  Our current ocean view room with the “friends/family” discount was only $240.

At my husband’s suggestion, I tried some of the highly advertised discount hotel websites.  I’ve never been a fan of the “blind hotel” sites such as Priceline or Hotwire.  I am uncomfortable paying for something before I know exactly what I’m getting even though I have friends who regularly use them.  In this instance,  I’d already had one hotel disappointment – I wasn’t willing to chance a second.

Before resigning ourselves to a lackluster week at our current property,  I tried Hotels.com.  I’ve used them in the past with success.  In fact, they listed the room level we wanted for our dates at $399 – $600 a night for future dates.  The $399 was a non-refundable, prepaid price listed as “limited time offer”. 

I went to the hotel front desk with smartphone in hand and asked if they could match the rate.  The Manager explained that their contract with these other sites gives them an allocation of rooms on dates they historically are not full.   As time gets short (checking in tomorrow versus 2 months from now) they will sell their inventory for whatever they can get – in this case, nearly $200/night less than the hotel itself because it’s the discounter taking the profit hit – not the hotel itself, they already sold the room to Hotels.com at the contract price.

The front desk management said they’d love to have us move over and encouraged me to “grab that deal”, which we did.  Yes, we prepaid on the spot but this time we knew exactly what we were buying.  Yes, it was $150/night more but we are not exclusively a “price customer “.  We’ve paid a lot more per night plenty of times!

Not only is the property lovely, our room has a lovely ocean view and even at our discount rate, they sent champagne to our room, gave us comp desserts and a cabana on the beach for a day in honor of our anniversary.

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The moral of the story is: Don’t be afraid to push the reset button!  When your room has issues but the property is fine – ask for a change.   When the property itself is the problem,  shop others nearby and then use the discount sites for last minute deals.  It’s your vacation – make it a great memory!

A Place to Rest My Head

May 18, 2012

College students are graduating and many are heading to Europe.  Six weeks, six months or a “gap year” are popular graduation gifts.  This is an ideal time in life to travel unencumbered and “see the world”.  My youngest stepson will turn 20 later this month somewhere in Italy.  His trip wasn’t a “gift” but rather an opportunity he created for himself.  When he talked to his dad about the trip, he had a budget all worked out and was planning to stay in youth hostels.

My husband turned pale as scenes from the Quentin Tarantino movie, Hostel, flashed through his mind.  He then turned to Google typing in “Security Youth Hostels”.  Despite their best efforts to provide security, all the advice came down to this; Don’t bring anything valuable (think camera, laptop, iPad), Don’t bring much money, Beware of those who try to befriend you.  Great!

He then asked if the interest in hostels was for some sort of “experience” or simply “economic”.  In fact, being young and on a budget – he was being cheap. Other options were welcome.

If you have a young person about to travel abroad – or even if YOU are so inclined, check out “AirBnB”.  Based out of San Francisco, this internet site matches up travelers with rooms for rent in private homes.  Sometimes it’s a room, other times the entire apartment, villa or home.  The prices range from only a few dollars a night more than a hostel to as much as you want to spend.

How is this different?  First, you typically have the place to yourself or you are sharing with your host – not a dozen or more strangers.  You can safely leave your belongings as you go out to explore.  Like some hostels, there is a kitchen so you can save some money by eating at least some meals in but you again are not sharing it with dozens of others.  Most have a private bath so you are less likely to catch a foot fungus in the shower and you won’t get ripped off while you are in there either.  Some even have a washer/dryer so you can do your laundry too.

These are actual photos from a listing in Madrid, Spain.  Granted, it’s not the Ritz, but it’s also only $20 a night!

How it works:  People with spaces to rent take lots of photos of the room, apartment, even the neighborhood or the view.  They set their rules (non-smoking for example) and their rates.  The host will also include a photo and some info about themselves.  If you were a woman traveling alone and only wanted to rent from a woman or a couple, you could make those choices.

The people who want to rent build similar profiles.  Before agreeing to rent their space to you, the host can review your past rental feedback.  You can also read reviews from previous guests.  Each time someone rents, both parties can review each other.  If a space for rent isn’t as advertised, the reviews will negatively reflect.  Same if a guest is rude, dirty or steals.  Think of it as an “Angie’s List” for overnight accomodations.

They have available space just about anywhere you would want to go.  Payment is by credit card through the website so you don’t have to worry about carrying as much cash or the price being suddenly different when you arrive.

My stepson has been staying with AirBnB hosts for the past 6 weeks and will continue to do so until he returns to the States mid-June.  Some of the hosts have simply met him to give him the key and left him alone, others have made him breakfast or gone out for a drink with him.  Traveling alone, the opportunity to have conversations with some locals is a bonus!

As for my husband, he has lost a lot less sleep for the few dollars more per night these accommodations cost and that, is priceless!

LA Live

March 30, 2012

For a lot of entertainment options in one place, visit LA Live.   Located at S. Figueroa and W. Olympic Blvd. near Hwy 110 in downtown Los Angeles its a mecca of hotels, dining and entertainment.

The dozen or more restaurants include Trader Vic’sFleming’s Steakhouse, The Yard House2 Wolfgang Puck restaurants and my personal favorite,  Rosa Mexicano.   This upscale Mexican restaurant has been expanding outside it’s NYC roots and this is the first of 2 LA area locations.  The successful chain is known for their tableside guacamole and frozen pomegranate margaritas.

The complex is home to Staples Center where you can catch a Lakers basketball game, a hockey game or a major concert such as Madonna.  The Nokia Theatre is a popular mid-sized venue for concerts and other events.  There’s also a Regal Cinema with 14 screens showing the latest Hollywood releases. You can even bowl at LA Live!

The Grammy Museum also calls LA Live home.  There they offer both exhibits and history but  concerts and other programs in an intimate setting.

There’s underground parking and plenty of entertainment to add to your visit to LA whether you’re there on vacation or on business at the nearby convention center.

Winter Wonderland…in Shorts!

August 12, 2011

Mount Rainier got 25′ of more snow than average this past winter.  Where usually the base of the mountain is a field of wildflowers by August, this year it’s still a snowfield!  The presents a rare opportunity to have some “winter fun” in your shorts!  

While you can find snow there year round, it’s not often you can’t even see the paved trails because of it!  Grab your family and friends and go spend an August day sledding and playing in the snow on Mount Rainier.

Paradise is only about a 2 hour drive from most of the Seattle metroplex.  Admission to the National Park is $15 for a 7 day pass.

What to bring:

  • Ski or hiking poles (it will make climbing a lot easier)
  • Waterproof boots or just a spare pair of dry shoes to change into when you get finished playing in the snow.
  • Shorts work well (it wasn’t cold, it just takes a LONG time for all that snow to melt) because pants soak up too much water.
  • A sledding disc or even just some sturdy plastic to sit on if you want to slide down
  • A towel and change of clothes in case you get wetter than expected.
  • Your camera!

We saw people skiing and snowboarding down the mountain as well.  

Pack a picnic lunch or take advantage of the nice food served in both the restaurant and coffee shop inside Paradise Inn.  You can even get a room for the night (like we did) if you have more than a day to spend.

The Visitor’s Center is staffed with Park Rangers who can give you maps of trails suited to your interest and skills.

In addition to playing in the snow in August, just below the elevation of the Visitor Center and the Paradise Inn the snow has melted and the trails are open.  There are lots of great, short and easy hikes you can do.

The heavy snowfall and late melt also has the waterfalls flowing spectacularly.  Be sure to take time to visit both Christine and Narada Falls – both with turnouts for easy viewing.

 

 

On your way back through Ashford, just a couple of miles outside the Park’s Paradise Gate, stop in at either the Wild Berry Restaurant or the Copper Creek Restaurant for a delicious slice of homemade berry pie – the perfect end to a memorable summer day!

 


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